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Cablegate: Rok's 17th National Assembly Winds Down: A Roundup

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P 030729Z JUN 08
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0269
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 4371
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW 8764
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 4508
RUEHIN/AIT TAIPEI 2717
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUALSFJ/COMUSJAPAN YOKOTA AB JA
RUACAAA/COMUSKOREA INTEL SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP//

UNCLAS SEOUL 001120

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PINR KN KS
SUBJECT: ROK'S 17TH NATIONAL ASSEMBLY WINDS DOWN: A ROUNDUP


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The 17th National Assembly, which
officially ended, was characterized by the prominent role of
386er representatives (those born in the 60s that led the
democratization movement in the 80s), its left-leaning
ideology, the increased number of women, and intense partisan
politics. More than 7,000 bills were introduced during the
17th National Assembly, three times the number of bills
introduced during the 16th National Assembly, but the low
passage rate of legislator-introduced bills of 21.2 percent
(26.8 percent in 16th) raised concerns about the efficiency
and quality of legislative activities. END SUMMARY

-----------------
PARTY COMPOSITION
-----------------

2. (SBU) The 17th National Assembly was elected in 2004 with
the Uri Party -- the progressive ruling party at the time --
gaining 152 seats out of the total 299, as a result of public
anger at the opposition parties for their efforts to attempt
to impeach President Roh. The Grand National Party, the
Democratic Labor Party, the Democratic Party, the Liberty
Democratic Alliance Party, the United Citizen 21 Party, and
independents gained 121, 10, 9, 4, 1, and 2 seats,
respectively. The 17th NA was the first assembly to grant
the liberal democrats a majority since the current
constitutions was adopted 1987. The progressive Democratic
Labor Party won its first seats in Parliament.

-----------------------------------
FEATURES OF 17th NA REPRESENTATIVES
-----------------------------------

3. (SBU) The 17th National Assembly was the main stage for
the emergence of young representatives from the "386
generation" who were characterized by their left-leaning
ideologies and participation in the democratization movement
in the late 1980s. 62.5 percent of legislators were
first-term members who proved their passions by introducing a
total of 4,199 bills, more than triple the 1,343 bills
proposed by experienced legislators. However, the passage
rates were almost equal with eleven to twelve percent, and
the "newer" assembly was ultimately unable to fulfill hopes
the new blood would clean up politics. Also, more
representatives were from professional backgrounds and
participated in research activities, signaling hopes for an
increasingly intelligent legislature. However, televised
footage of physical violence among legislators, reports of
corruption and sex scandals contributed to the public's
disillusionment of politics.

----------------------
LEGISLATIVE ACTIVITIES
----------------------

4. (SBU) The Uri Party-led initiative to pass the four major
reform bills, i.e., abolishment of the National Security Law,
Media Relation Reform Law, Private School Revision Law, and
Truth and Reconciliation Law, failed to pass the National
Assembly because of GNP opposition. Nevertheless, the 17th NA
introduced an abundance of new bills (7,489), triple the
number of bills proposed in the 16th National Assembly.
However, Professor Park Hyo Jong of Seoul National University
criticized that the bills introduced by the representatives
lagged behind in professionalism compared to
government-proposed laws, and that representatives worked
hard to introduce bills to raise their number of proposals
but failed to actually pass them, leading to debate on the
efficiency and quality of legislative activities. In fact,
only 1,351 bills (21 percent) out of the total 6,387 bills
introduced by representatives passed the National Assembly,
compared to the 563 governmental bills (51 percent) out of
the 1,102 bills that were proposed by the government.

--------------------
INTENSE PARTISANSHIP
--------------------

5. (SBU) Beginning with the introduction of the four major
reform bills, heated partisanship undermined the workings of
the 17th NA. Partisan divisions were intensified with
representatives' tendencies to conform to party positions and
ideological debates, and often led to protracted debates on
policy issues. The final sessions were tainted by
inconclusive partisan fighting over the citizen pension law,
private school law, law school law, the reopening of the
Korean market to US beef, and the KORUS FTA. In addition,
the breakdown and mergers between the Uri-Party, the
Democratic Party, and the United Democratic Party brought
criticisms that compared legislators to migratory birds. The
public perceived the parliament to be more occupied with
political infighting than the public interest.

---------------
CALL FOR CHANGE
---------------

6. (SBU) As the 17th NA concluded in public disappointment,
specialists advised ways to improve the workings of the next
assembly. Candidate for the 18th NA Speaker Ahn Sang Soo
(GNP) suggested the establishment of an institution to
provide incentives for policy research, support the passage
of bills, monitor national administration, and check budget
developments. Soong Sil University Professor Kang Kyung Geun
promoted greater power and authority for committees would
help resolve the lack of professionalism and low efficiency
shown by the low bill passage rate. Kyung Hee University
Professor Kim Min Jeon advised assemblymen to restrain from
blind party loyalty, and urged the ruling party to check
rather than yield to the Blue House. Seoul National
University Professor Park Hyo Jong stressed that the National
Assembly must shift from sensational corruption disclosures
and political disputes to policy issues. Outgoing Speaker of
the House Im Chae Jung said that the public will demand
satisfactory progress on important issues such as U.S. beef
imports, the KORUS FTA, the socioeconomic gap, and rising
inflation, which the 17th NA failed to address adequately let
alone resolve.

-------
COMMENT
-------

7. (SBU) Corresponding to the overall democratic
developments, South Koreans are now demanding more from their
legislators: more transparency, more professionalism, and
above all, more effectiveness in addressing their real
economic and social concerns. To be fair, over the past two
decades, the South Korean legislative has emerged as a
powerful institution capable of its proper check and balance
role. However, it is also true that the National Assembly is
still characterized by severe ideological polarization and
crippling factionalism, as shown by the poor performance of
the 17th National Assembly is passing key bills. Changing
old habits takes time, but Korean legislators are changing,
even if much too slowly for most Koreans.
VERSHBOW

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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